Military Ranks

Military ranks, designations and description in the Second World War in international comparison.

Panzer and infantry officers at Klin
Panzer and infantry officers of the Wehrmacht discuss a planned attack in the area of Klin.

Ranks in the National Armies and Air Forces of World War II and the promotion system in the German Army.

Promotions in the German Army

German officers 1912
German officers during the Kaiser’s maneuver of 1912.
Promotions in the German Army before the First World War took place after the years of service and were extremely slow compared to today’s conditions. It usually took 15 years from lieutenant to captain and another ten years from there to major. For this reason the mass of German officers ended their active career with the rank of Major.

In order to be promoted beyond that as an officer, a general staff training was unavoidable. Therefore, the lower ranks were practically excluded due to their low level of education. These General Staff officers were determined by examination results, with only the best being accepted. They provided only about three to four percent of all officers in peace and could expect much faster promotion even at that time.

On the one hand, this system ensured that a stubborn ‘Colonel Blimp’ in the German army was sorted out before it reached the rank of colonel. However, these less suitable, older officers with their questionable qualifications remained on their post for a long time as commanders of companies or battalions.

During the First World War these ranks had to be combed out again and again in order to get rid of the most incompetent elements. In the year 1914 this happened already twice, in 1915 also, in 1916 already three times and in 1917 even seven times, while in the last year of war two combs were made again.

In the German Army (called Reichswehr) after the First World War, the promotion procedure was largely retained. In the case of the army, which was severely limited in scope by the Treaty of Versailles, this meant that promotions were even slower than before the war.
Seeckt therefore introduced a reform in which superiors of all ranks had to assess their subordinates, which became the main criterion for promotions.

General Von Seeckt
General Von Seeckt became the creator of the Reichswehr in 1920.
From 1920 onwards, more emphasis was therefore placed on ‘character’ properties. This included honesty, selflessness, commitment and a sense of responsibility. Eager earners were not desired, while the ability to convey and maintain trust was regarded as the most important virtue.
In order to prevent abuse of the new procedure, the authors of the evaluations were informed that they would be judged according to the reliability of their evaluation sheets. The whole evaluation should be as short as possible and should be limited to the essential, such as personality, character, professional qualification and achievement.
By this new system an officer of the Reichswehr could normally assume that he would make it to the Regiment Commander, which at that time was an important position in the German army.
In order to achieve a higher rank, the General Staff training and the activity of a General Staff Officer (Ia) in a division was necessary. Only then could one become a division commander.

The limited possibilities for promotions in this very limited army of the Reichswehr threatened to have a damaging effect on the spirit of the officer corps. Therefore, the personnel office of the Reichswehr introduced a procedure in which, in addition to seniority, the individual abilities of exceptionally qualified officers were taken into account.
On average, about 15 percent of all officers of the Reichswehr were promoted because of their special aptitude. The majority of them were General Staff officers who must have served in a combat unit before, but other officers were also considered in exceptional cases.
This preferential promotion caused a steep increase in the careers of the selected officers, who on average jumped over 200 to 275 senior officers. Thus, the limited possibilities for promotion which had arisen from the Treaty of Versailles were again compensated for, even if only for a minority of those affected.

With Hitler‘s assumption of power things changed and the strong expansion of the army quickly led to an enlargement and rejuvenation of the officer corps. Nevertheless, the procedure of the Reichswehr during the Weimar Republic was maintained and the thirties of the last century thus became the ‘golden years’ of some ‘career makers’ in the new Wehrmacht.

Von Rundstedt
Von Rundstedt as Field Marshal.
The assessment system was also maintained, with the officers in the troops now being assessed in even years and those of the General Staff in odd years. This procedure, however, led to excessive attention for the officers of the General Staff, which was out of all proportion to their small numbers.
In all the assessments, each officer had to be assessed by his superior as ‘above average’, ‘average’ or ‘below average’, with the latter classification leading directly to dismissal in the pre-war period.

Each army division also had lists in which its officers were divided into seven categories.
Category 1: Officers who were suitable for the high command of the Wehrmacht or the army.
Category 2: Suitable for the General Staff.
Category 3: suitable as adjutant.
Category 4: Officers with special suitability for further training.
Category 5: Those who, for health reasons, must be spared until further notice.
Category 6: Officers who were not suitable for the next higher rank.
Category 7: Those who were already unsuitable for their current position.

These division lists and evaluation sheets on officers enabled the Army Personnel Office to make excellent decisions on promotions and deployment. In addition, the members of the Office often visited the troops and were present during maneuvers and exercises, so that they knew and could classify practically all generals and general staff officers personally.

Even in the early years of the Second World War, this system, which had been in existence in Prussia for centuries since the time of Frederick the Great, was retained. However, the increasing bloody losses at the front meant that seniority was no longer taken so seriously, but that performance in the field was valued higher.

Hitler awards the Knight's Cross
In the presence of the company commander, Hitler awards the Knight’s Cross to a corporal.
In November 1942, however, Hitler issued a direct order to the Army Personnel Office to reform the procedure in order to adapt to current circumstances. Excerpts from the order state that ‘the Fuehrer has ordered that every active officer, in reserve or for use must have led a front unit in combat and have demonstrated the requisite aptitude to be promoted to the grade appropriate to his completed post. The Fuehrer wishes, in addition, to record and promote officers of exceptional personality and ability, regardless of age or seniority, who appear suitable for use in authoritative command posts. A uniform promotion of all officers according to seniority is contrary to the principle of performance and leadership, to which the Wehrmacht must be committed with the highest responsibility for the final victory ….
The front officers were deliberately emphasized first and foremost by this decree. These officers are the closest to death and should be the first to benefit from these opportunities for promotion.’

During the second half of the war, this change significantly accelerated the promotion of front-line officers, especially those who took the place of killed predecessors.
A second lieutenant as company commander could thus become lieutenant after just two months or the commander of a battalion could move from lieutenant to captain within six months.

With the duration of the war, it became more and more a prerequisite for promotion that officers earn their promotion with performance on the front. From July 1944 onwards, one could only be promoted as an officer in the General Staff if one had qualified for it at the front-line. And a new character trait ‘crisis-proof’ was introduced at Hitler’s insistence at the Army Personnel Office, and the significance of seniority became less and less important compared to the character traits.

This system clearly resulted in only officers with proven front-line skills were promoted, but at the expense of the traditional values of corps spirit among officers. This may have been in Hitler’s interest.
In any case, all these changes did not fail to have an effect, as the promotions in the second half of 1943 show.
There were three promotions to the Colonel General, all of which were only preferred and not according to seniority.
Of the 26 promotions to generals, only one was based on seniority.
Of the 86 new Lieutenants General, 67 or just under 80 per cent were promoted preferentially.
Only among the 154 promotions to the Major-General did seniority predominate, as 96 or 62.3 per cent of them were given the new rank.
Of the 328 new colonels, 198 or more than 60 percent were given preferential promotion.
206 of the 309 lieutenant-colonels or 67.7 percent were given preferential promotion.
Of the 984 new majors, 945 or 96 per cent were given preferential promotion.

For this purpose a number of officers were subsequently promoted to their current positions, who had taken over in the order of precedence through the death of their predecessor. These figures were directly related to the losses of the respective arms category.
Thus, 57 percent of the infantry officers were subsequently promoted to their current positions. The infantry lost 53 percent of its officers.
In the case of the Panzer troops, 19 per cent were subsequently promoted to 20 per cent of the officers’ losses.
For artillery, this figure was 16 per cent and for officers 18 per cent losses.
Among the engineers there were six per cent subsequent promotions with seven per cent officer losses.
The figures for the intelligence and communication troops were one to two per cent losses and for the general staff one per cent of the officers were subsequently promoted.

The more dangerous the deployment of the officers was, the clearly faster the promotion took place during the last war years of the Second World War.

Ranks in the National Armies and Air Forces

Military Ranks Part I:

Ranking, DescriptionGermany (Army)Germany (Air Force)Germany (Waffen-SS)Great Britain (Army)Great Britain (RAF)United States (Army/Air Force)
01 1st Marshal-Reichsmarschall--Marshal of the RAF-
02 Senior Marshal----Air Chief Marshal-
03 Field MarshalGeneral-feldmarschallGeneral-feldmarschall-Field-MarshalAir Marshal-
04 General (I)GeneraloberstGeneraloberstSS-Obergruppen-führer u.Gen.Obst.d.W-SSGeneralAir Vice MarshalGeneral of the Armies of the United States (1945: General of the Army)
05 General (II)General der Infanterie (etc for arms)General der FliegerSS-Obergruppen-führer u.Gen.d.W-SS--General
06 General (III)------
07 Lieutenant-GeneralGeneralleutnantGeneralleutnantSS-Gruppen-führer u.Gen.Lt.d.W-SSLieutenant-General-Lieutenant-General
08 Major-GeneralGeneralmajorGeneralmajorSS-Brigade-führer u.Gen.Maj.d.W-SSMajor-General-Major-General
09 Brigadier--SS-OberführerBrigadierAir CommodoreBrigadier-General
10 ColonelOberstOberstSS-Standarten-führerColonelGroup CaptainColonel
11 Lieutenant-ColonelOberstleutnantOberstleutnantSS-Obersturm-bannführerLieutenant-ColonelWing CommanderLieutenant-Colonel
12 MajorMajorMajorSS-Sturmbann-führerMajorSquadron LeaderMajor
13 Captain (I)Hauptmann bzw RittmeisterHauptmannSS-Hauptsturm-führerCaptainFlight LieutenantCaptain
14 Captain (II)------
15 Lieutenant (I)OberleutnantOberleutnantSS-Obersturm-führerLieutenantFlying OfficerFirst Lieutenant
16 Lieutenant (II)------
17 2nd LieutenantLeutnantLeutnantSS-Untersturm-führer2nd LieutenantPilot OfficerSecond Lieutenant
18 Ensign------
19 Warrant Officer (I)---Regimental/Staff-Sergant-Major etcWarrant OfficerChief Warrant Officer
20 Warrant Officer (II)--- Regtl. Quartermaster Sgt., Company Sergeant-Major-Warrant Officer junior grade
21 Warrant Officer (III)--- Platoon Sergeant-Major--
22 Warrant Officer (IV)------
23 Staff SergeantStabsfeldwebel or Wachtmeister-SS-Sturmschar-führer--Master Sergeant
24 Sergeant-MajorOberfeldwebel or WachtmeisterOberfeldwebel oder WachtmeisterSS-Hauptschar-führerColour SergeantFlight SergeantFirst Sergeant
25 Senior SergeantFeldwebel or WachtmeisterFeldwebel oder WachtmeisterSS-Oberschar-führerSergeantSergeantTechnical Sergeant
26 SergeantUnterfeldwebel oder WachtmeisterUnterfeldwebel oder WachtmeisterSS-Scharführer--Staff Sergeant
27 Lance-Sergeant---Corporal oder Lance-Sergeant-Sergeant
28 Staff-Corporal------
29 Corporal-Major------
30 CorporalUnteroffizier or OberjägerUnteroffizier or OberjägerSS-Unterschar-führerCorporal or BombardierCorporalCorporal
31 Staff Lance-Corporal-Stabsgefreiter----
32 Lance-Corporal-MajorStabsgefreiterHauptgefreiter----
33 Senior Lance-CorporalObergfreiterObergefreiterSS-Rottenführer---
34 Lance-CorporalGefreiterGefreiterSS-SturmmannLance-CorporalLeading Aircraftman-
35 Superior Private------
36 Private 1st ClassOberschütze-SS-Oberschütze-Aircraftman 1st classPrivate first class
37 Private 2nd Class------
38 PrivateSchützeSoldat or FliegerSS-SchützePrivateAircraftmen 2nd classPrivate
39 Cadet------

Military Ranks Part II:

Ranking, DescriptionSoviet Union (1939-40)Soviet Union (1940-45)Japan (Army/Air force)Italy (Army)Italy (Air Force)France (Army/Air Force)
01 1st MarshalMarshal Sovetskogo SoyuzaMarshal Sovetskogo Soyuza-1° Marescillo dell'Impero--
02 Senior Marshal-Glavnyy Marshal (Arilleriyi etc)-Maresciallo d'ItaliaMaresciallo dell AviaMarechal de France
03 Field Marshal-Marshal (Aviatsiyi etc)Gen-sui---
04 General (I)Komandarm Pervogo RangaGeneral ArmiyiTai-ShoGenerale d'ArmataGenerale d'Armata AereaGeneral d' Armee
05 General (II)Kommandarm Vtorogo RangaGeneral Polkovnik-Generale di C.A. designato d'ArmataGenerale di Corpo d'Armata AereaGeneral de Corps d'Armee
06 General (III)Kommandir Korpusa--Generale di Corpo d'ArmataGenerale di Squadra Aerea-
07 Lieutenant-GeneralKommandir DiviziyiGeneral LeytenantChu-JoGenerale di DivisioneGenerale di Divisione AereaGeneral de Division
08 Major-GeneralKommandir BrigadyGeneral MajorSho-ShoGenerale di BrigataGenerale di Brigata AereaGeneral de Brigade
09 Brigadier------
10 ColonelPolkovnikPolkovnikTai-SaColonnelloColonnelloColonel
11 Lieutenant-Colonel-PodpolkovnikChu-SaTenente ColonnelloTenente ColonnelloLieutenant-Colonel
12 MajorMajorMajorSho-SaMaggioreMaggioreChef de Bataillon
13 Captain (I)KapitanKapitanTai-i1° Capitano1° CapitanoCapitaine
14 Captain (II)---CapitanoCapitano-
15 Lieutenant (I)Starshiy LeytenantStarshiy LeytenantChu-i1° Tenente1° TenenteLieutenant
16 Lieutenant (II)LeytenantLeytenant-TenenteTenente-
17 2nd LieutenantMladshiy LeytenantMladshiy LeytenantSho-iSottotenenteSottitenenteSous-Lieutenant
18 Ensign------
19 Warrant Officer (I)--Tokumo So-ChoAiutante di BattagliaAiutante di BattagliaAdjudant-Chef
20 Warrant Officer (II)---Maresciallo MaggioreMaresciallo MaggioreAdjudant
21 Warrant Officer (III)---Maresciallo CapoMaresciallo Capo-
22 Warrant Officer (IV)---Maresciallo OrdinarioMaresciallo Ordinario-
23 Staff Sergeant------
24 Sergeant-MajorStarshinaStarshinaSo-ChoSergente MaggioreSergente MaggioreSergent-Chef
25 Senior SergeantStarshiy SerzhantStarshiy Serzhant----
26 SergeantSerzhantSerzhantGun-SoSergenteSergenteSergent
27 Lance-SergeantMladshiy SerzhantMladshiy Serzhant----
28 Staff-Corporal------
29 Corporal-Major---Corporale MaggiorePrimo AviereCaporal-Chef
30 CorporalYefreytorYefreytorGo-ChoCorporaleAviere SceltoCaporal
31 Staff Lance-Corporal------
32 Lance-Corporal-Major------
33 Senior Lance-Corporal------
34 Lance-Corporal--Go-Cho Kimmu Joto Hei---
35 Superior Private--Joto Hei---
36 Private 1st Class--Itto HeiAppuntato (Cavalry)-Soldat de 1ere Classe
37 Private 2nd Class--Nito Hei---
38 PrivateKrasnoarmeyetsKrasnoarmeyets-SoldatoAviereSoldat de 2ene Classe
39 Cadet-----Aspirant

Military Ranks Part III:

Ranking, DescriptionBelgium (Army/Air Force)Bulgaria (Army/Air Force)China (Army/Air Force)Denmark (Army/Air Force)Finland (Army/Air Force)Hungary (Army/Air Force)
01 1st Marshal----Sotamarsalkka-
02 Senior Marshal------
03 Field Marshal--T'e Chih Shang Chiang--Tabornagy
04 General (I)-GeneralI Chi Shang ChiangGeneralKenraaliVezerezredes
05 General (II)--Erh Chi Shang Chiang---
06 General (III)------
07 Lieutenant-GeneralLieutenant-General or Luitenant-GeneraalGeneral-LeytenantChiung ChiangGenerallojtnantKenraaliluutnanttiAltabornagy
08 Major-GeneralGeneral-Major or Generaal-MajoorGeneral-MajorShao ChiangGeneralmajorKenraalimajuriVezerörnagy
09 Brigadier------
10 ColonelColonel or KolonelPolkovnikShang HsiaoOberstEverstiEzredes
11 Lieutenant-ColonelLieutenant-Colonel or Luitenant-KolonelPopdpolkovnikChung HsiaoOberstlojtnantEverstiluutnanttiAlezredes
12 MajorMajor or MajoorMajorShao Hsiao-MajuriÖrnagy
13 Captain (I)Captaine-Commandant or Kapitein-KommandantKapitanShang WeiKaptajnKapteeniSzazados
14 Captain (II)Capitaine oder Kapitein--Kaptajnloitnant--
15 Lieutenant (I)Lieutenant or LuitenantPoruchikChung weiPrmeierlojtnantLuutnanttiFöhadnagy
16 Lieutenant (II)---Lojtnant af Reseven--
17 2nd LieutenantSous-Lieutenant or Onder-LuitenantPodporuchikShao WeiSekundlojtnantVänrikkiHadnagy
18 Ensign------
19 Warrant Officer (I)Adjudant de 1ere Classe or Adjutant 1ere VilosFeldfebelChun WeiKorpsofficaintSotilasmestariAlhadnagy
20 Warrant Officer (II)Adjudant or Adjutant--Stabsofficiant--
21 Warrant Officer (III)---Overofficiant--
22 Warrant Officer (IV)---Officiant--
23 Staff Sergeant-----Fötörsörmester
24 Sergeant-Major1er Sergent-Major or 1ere Sergeant-Majoor-Shang ShihOversergentVääpeliTörzsörnester
25 Senior SergeantPremier Sergent or 1ere Sergeant---Ylikersantti-
26 SergeantSergent or SergeantPodofitserChung ShihSergentKersanttiÖrmester
27 Lance-Sergeant----Alikersantti-
28 Staff-Corporal------
29 Corporal-Major-----Szajaszcezetö
30 CorporalCaporal or KorporaalKandidat ProdofitserHsia ShihKorporalKorpraaliTizedes
31 Staff Lance-Corporal------
32 Lance-Corporal-Major------
33 Senior Lance-Corporal------
34 Lance-Corporal---Underkorporal--
35 Superior Private--Shang Teng Ping---
36 Private 1st ClassSoldat d'elite or Soldaat 1ere KlasseEfreytorI Teng Ping--Örvezetö
37 Private 2nd Class--Erh Teng Ping---
38 PrivateSoldate or SoldaatRednik-MenigSotamiesHonved
39 Cadet-Ofitserski Kandidat---Zaszlos

Military Ranks Part IV:

Ranking, DescriptionGreece (Army)Greece (Air Force)Netherlands (Army/Air Force)Norway (Army/Air Force)Poland (Army/Air Force)Yugoslavia (Army/Air Force)
01 1st Marshal------
02 Senior Marshal----Marszalek Polski-
03 Field MarshalStratigos----Vojvoda
04 General (I)ArchistratigosPterarchosGeneraalGeneralGeneral BroniArmijski Djeneral
05 General (II)------
06 General (III)------
07 Lieutenant-GeneralAnitistratigosAntipterarchosLuitenant-GeneraalGeneralloytnantGeneral DywizjiDivizijski Djeneral
08 Major-GeneralYpostratigosYpopterarchosGeneraal-MajoorGenerlmajorGeneral BrygadyBrigadni Djeneral
09 Brigadier-Taxiarchos Aeroporias----
10 ColonelSyntagmatarchisSminarchosKolonelOberstPulkownikPukovnik
11 Lieutenant-ColonelAntisynatgmatarchisAntisminarchosLuitenant-KolonelOberstloytnantPodpulkownikPotpukovnik
12 MajorTagmatarchisEpisminagosMajoorMajorMajorMajor
13 Captain (I)LochagosSminagosKapiteinKapteinKapitanKapetan I Klase
14 Captain (II)-----Kapetan II Klase
15 Lieutenant (I)YpolochagoYposminagosEerste-LuitenantLoytnantPorucznikPorucnik
16 Lieutenant (II)------
17 2nd LieutenantAnthypolochagosAnthyposminarchosTweede-LuitenantFenrikPodporucznikPodporucnik
18 Ensign------
19 Warrant Officer (I)Monimos AnthypaspistiaArchisminiasAdjudant-onder-Officier-Chorazy-
20 Warrant Officer (II)------
21 Warrant Officer (III)------
22 Warrant Officer (IV)------
23 Staff Sergeant---Stabsersjant--
24 Sergeant-MajorMonimos EpilochiasEpisminiasSergeant-Majoor-Starszy Sierzant Narednik vodnik I, II, III Klase
25 Senior Sergeant--Sergeant ter 1e Klasse--Narednik
26 SergeantMonimos LochiasSminiasSergeantSersjantSierzantPodnarednik
27 Lance-Sergeant----Plutonowy-
28 Staff-Corporal------
29 Corporal-Major------
30 CorporalMonimos DekaneusYposminias AKorporaalKorporalKapralKaplar
31 Staff Lance-Corporal------
32 Lance-Corporal-Major------
33 Senior Lance-Corporal------
34 Lance-CorporalEfredos DekaneusYposminias B-VisekorporalStrszy Szeregowiec-
35 Superior Private------
36 Private 1st Class--Soldaat ter 1e klasse---
37 Private 2nd Class------
38 PrivateStratiotisSminitisSoldaatMenigSzeregowiecRedov
39 Cadet----Aspirant-

Military Ranks Part V:

Ranking, DescriptionRomania (Army)Romania (Air Force)
01 1st Marshal------
02 Senior MarshalMaresal al Rominia-----
03 Field Marshal------
04 General (I)General de Armata-----
05 General (II)Generald de Corps de Armata-----
06 General (III)------
07 Lieutenant-GeneralGeneral de DivizieGeneral Commandant----
08 Major-GeneralGenerak de BrigadaGeneral de Escadra----
09 Brigadier------
10 ColonelColonelCommandor----
11 Lieutenant-ColonelLocotenent-ColonelCapitan-Commandor----
12 MajorMajorLocotenent-Commandor----
13 Captain (I)CapitanCapitan----
14 Captain (II)------
15 Lieutenant (I)LocotenentLocotenent----
16 Lieutenant (II)------
17 2nd LieutenantSublocotenentSublocotenent----
18 Ensign------
19 Warrant Officer (I)Plutonier AdjudantAdjudant sef Aviator----
20 Warrant Officer (II)Plutonier MaiorAdjudant Major Aviator----
21 Warrant Officer (III)PlutonierAdjudant Aviator----
22 Warrant Officer (IV)-Adjutant Stagiar Aviator----
23 Staff Sergeant------
24 Sergeant-NajorSergent Maior-----
25 Senior Sergeant------
26 SergeantSergentSergent----
27 Lance-Sergeant------
28 Staff-Corporal------
29 Corporal-Major------
30 CorporalCaporalCaporal----
31 Staff Lance-Corporal------
32 Lance-Corporal-Major------
33 Senior Lance-Corporal------
34 Lance-CorporalFruntasFruntas----
35 Superior Private------
36 Private 1st Class------
37 Private 2nd Class------
38 PrivateSoldatSoldat----
39 Cadet------

References and literature

The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
Kampfkraft (Martin van Creveld)
Der Genius des Krieges (Trevor N. Dupuy)

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